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Keith Olbermann’s Brief, Fox-y Response to Ted Koppel’s Reliable Sources Spot: Koppel’s ‘Still Alive?’

The meta-media feud that united Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann in opposition to Ted Koppel continued this weekend, as Koppel appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources, and responded to the former Countdown host’s response to Koppel’s November op-ed piece, “The Death of Real News.”

Responding to a Twitter taunt about Koppel’s spot, Olbermann’s brief response, “Ted Koppel is still ALIVE?”, gave me a Proustian sensation of deja ecoute, a presence I haven’t felt since…

Olbermann will, in all likelihood, compose a longer rebuttal to Koppel (perhaps another Special Comment), but his brief Twitter kiss-off is of particular amusement to me because, ironically, it’s almost exactly the same as the first statement I ever got from Fox News, the very outlet that Koppel lumps Olbermann together with.

The subject, then, was filmmaker Robert Greenwald, and I unexpectedly found myself in agreement with Fox, and disagreement with Greenwald, on the issue of a la carte cable. Greenwald had agreed to do an interview with me, so  I contacted Fox News to try and get their side of the story. Here’s the response they gave me: “Is Greenwald still alive, or is it just his career that’s dead?”

I’m sure that both Olbermann and Fox News would be displeased by this comparison, but there does appear to be one major difference. Olbermann launched his missive, presumably, off-the-cuff, and probably shortly after he read the taunt.

Fox News spokesman Rich White (that’s his name, not his demographic), by contrast, took the better part of an afternoon, and several meetings, to arrive at the statement he gave me, and even then, only on the condition that I not give Greenwald the chance to respond in print. Thankfully, I didn’t have to agree to any of those conditions, since Fox had already given the same statement to another reporter.

Little more than a month into my professional writing career, the episode was an eye-opening lesson in dealing with public relations reps. At the time, I was shocked that Fox hadn’t jumped at the chance to engage in a substantive debate on the issue at hand, but the calculation was that it was better to project an image of aloof ambivalence toward Greenwald (despite furious behind-the-scenes action in composing the response) than to engage on the substance.

As for Koppel’s criticism, his focus on “opinion media” is a misdirection. You could legislate Olbermann and O’Reilly out of existence, and journalism would still suck, because good journalism is expensive, and doesn’t sell nearly as well as crap. As long as news organizations are primarily driven by profits, that corrupting influence will continue.

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